Spotlight on Marcus Shelby


Marcus and members of the Marcus Shelby Orchestra will perform at the Equal Justice Society annual gala on September 13 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater. Our gala will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Our event will also feature performances by artists from Zaccho Dance Theatre and the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. We’ll profile these two groups in future posts.

EJS has enjoyed an inspiring and dynamic relationship with Marcus Shelby that began in 2003, when we commissioned Marcus to create an original 75-minute jazz and swing composition titled “Port Chicago.”

The composition commemorated the 60th anniversary of the tragic World War II explosion at a munitions loading dock just north of San Francisco that killed more than 320 sailors, most of them African American. The Marcus Shelby Orchestra performed “Port Chicago” in December 2004 to a sold-out crowd at EJS’s first annual benefit.

In 2011, EJS commissioned Marcus and Zaccho Dance Theatre to create “Dying While Black and Brown,” which fused Marcus’ music with the unique movements of Joanna Haigood and Zaccho Dance Theatre. Performed at EJS’s annual gala in 2011, it marked the first collaboration between Marcus and Joanna.

In 2013, Marcus and Joanna were joined by Steven Anthony Jones of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in a three-year collaboration in which the three artists and their teams would create performances as the main features of EJS’s annual fundraisers from 2013-2015. The first performance was unveiled on August 28, 2013, at our annual gala at the Oakland Museum commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The trio’s collaboration continues this year as they share an original performance with our audience at our September 13 event.

Marcus Anthony Shelby is an accomplished teacher, composer, arranger, and bassist who currently lives in San Francisco, California. From 1990-1996, he was bandleader of Columbia Records and GRP Impulse! Recording Artists Black/Note and is currently the Artistic Director and leader of The Marcus Shelby Orchestra. Marcus was awarded a 2009 Black Metropolis Research Consortium Fellowship in Chicago for summer 2009 to conduct research for his commission to compose “Soul of the Movement”—a 12 part musical suite on MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. Marcus is currently an artist in residence with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, which supports the community-based projects developed by Marcus and where his orchestra performs annually. In March 2013, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee appointed Marcus to the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Learn more about Marcus at, and please join us on September 13 by purchasing tickets or a sponsorship.

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